How Belgium Taught Me To Believe In The Kindness Of Strangers

“I have no faith in humanity “

I hear people say this phrase pretty often. With all of the horrible things we see and hear happening around the world it’s easy to lose sight of the good in people. But prepare yourself, as I am about to tell you a story that will blow your mind as much as it blew mine, and remind you that humanity really isn’t that bad after all.

Back in 2012, after we graduated college, my best friend Angelina and I decided to blow off the whole “getting a job” thing and completely liquefy our bank accounts backpacking around Europe for three months. So I quit my part-time job, broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years, and set off on a 13-hour flight from San Francisco to Dublin, Ireland with absolutely no set plans whatsoever.

During our travels, we met a solo traveler named Mark while we were on a ferry from Ireland to Wales. We liked him and decided to keep him with us for a while. The three of us eventually found ourselves in Belgium, and on the recommendation of several people, decided to spend a day in Bruges.

Our day started out perfectly. We got to Bruges, managed to store our backpacks at the train station, and quickly rented bikes so that we could see more of the city in a short amount of time. The place we rented our bikes from suggested that we store our purses and jackets in the storage case attached to the back of our bikes so that while we ride we can keep our belongings safe. Angelina and I both decided to utilize this little case because we are safe, responsible travelers. Duh.

So we begin our bike journey through Bruges and it is absolutely stunning. Gorgeous old buildings, clean streets covered in cobblestones, romantic bridges and canals. It was pouring rain the day we visited, which believe it or not added to Bruges’ atmosphere and made me even more starry-eyed.

We weren’t even a mile into the city center when I reached over behind me to grab my water bottle out of my purse in the bike case. To my absolute horror – I didn’t feel my purse. In fact, I didn’t feel ANYTHING. I turned around to look and my heart stopped beating – not only was my purse gone, my ENTIRE bike case was gone. It had completely fallen off, and I had no idea where. I didn’t see it or hear it fall at all, and neither did Angelina and Mark.

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 12.13.56 PM

Now, I am one of those paranoid people who keeps everything important with them. I didn’t trust leaving all of my treasured belongings in a locker at the train station, so my bag was stuffed full of my crap. My wallet, iPad, passport, train pass, all of my cash, my American credit cards and identification – if it was important, it was in my bag. The only things I had on me were my camera that was slung over my shoulder and my iPhone that was stored away in my bra (hell yeah bra storage!) Get this — even the ticket to open the locker at the airport where all of our luggage was stored was in my purse. When we stored our belongings, there was a big sign saying that if you lost your ticket, you could not retrieve your stuff. I had promised both Angelina and Mark I would keep the ticket safe. So not only was I completely screwed, but Angelina and Mark were as well.

I have never ever been so afraid in my life. You would think I would be hysterical and crying out of sheer terror but on the contrary, I remained calm — I think out of complete and utter shock. I was literally living my worst travel nightmare.

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 12.14.36 PM

Being the genius that I am, I looked at my photos to see when the last time I had it was. Then the three of us bolted through Bruges on our bikes, retracing our steps for over and hour and found….nothing. Absolutely nothing.

When the sudden realization hit me that I was in a country five thousand miles away from home with no money, no passport, and no way to get home, the true panic was starting to set in. My trip was ruined. The shock that had caused my calmness earlier was wearing off.

I was about to have a complete breakdown when, by the world of miracles, I saw it — right on the sidewalk, sitting upright on its own, next to an older man & woman who were standing next to it. I could not believe my eyes, it was like Jesus himself frickin’ came down from heaven and placed it in front of me. I had what was probably a heart attack, burst into tears, and ran over to it. I feel like I probably made some sort of scream on my way over, as the older couple who looked very alarmed as I lunged for the bag by their legs.

Once I held my sweet, sweet bag in my hands, the woman looked down and me and said “Oh thank god! We are so happy you found it! We knew someone had lost it and decided that we would stand guard for as long as possible until someone came to claim it. We didn’t want it getting into the wrong hands.”

Yes friends, it turns out this woman and her husband literally stood guard over my bag. I hugged her until she couldn’t breathe. I offered her money for being amazing, but she refused. Not one thing out of my bag had been stolen. Who knew that there were people in the world that are amazing enough to actually guard someone’s lost belongings!? After I had calmed down, I reached into my bag and ate an entire box of Belgian chocolate that I had previously purchased and continued to cry on the street. Mark captured this gem of a moment on his camera, and later uploaded it to Facebook where it still remains. What a bastard.

Needless to say, my hope in humanity rose about 150% that day, and I’m happy to say that since that moment, it’s remained very high. I never saw that lovely older couple again, however, I think of them often and I like to imagine that the good karma they earned that day allowed them to win the lottery and retire in Aruba. I’m absolutely amazed and ecstatic that our day (and our entire trip) wasn’t completely ruined by my stupidity.

The three months I spent in Europe are too this day three of the most profound in my life. Despite how frightened I felt that day, I learned on that trip just how important it is to travel. During that trip, Mark and Angelina fell in love, and remain so to this day. I on the other hand ended up falling more in love with myself, and returned home only to find myself back in Europe a year later. This time, I live in Ireland and am working on my Master’s Degree at the school of my dreams.

Finding your independence, experiencing the world, meeting new people and opening your eyes and your mind are just a few of the completely invaluable things that traveling brings you. It really, truly is the only thing that you buy that actually makes you richer.

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 12.15.29 PM

Lesson of the day: don’t be distracted by beautiful cities while on a bike, because your brain will turn to mush and you wont realize that your freaking bike case fell off. Also, there are good people left in the world. Hallelujah. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Presented by Cayman Jack – Arguably the Most Refreshing Margarita in the World.

More From Thought Catalog